Read our profile of James Wan, the director of Saw, and see my brief review of his latest movie, The Conjuring.
Malaysian-born, Australian-raised filmmaker James Wan has been busy the last ten years. His first feature film, Saw, was a box office smash that has six sequels. Since its release in 2004, Wan has directed four more features. The most recent is The Conjuring, playing in theaters now.
Wan and his writing partner, Leigh Whaddell, met in film school in Melbourne. After graduating, they held of series of grunt jobs in the film industry, while planning to shoot their own low-budget movie.
What’s lower budget than two people in a room? That’s where they started. They came up with the idea for Saw, and to pitch it to studios they shot one scene of their completed script. They put that on DVD and moved to Los Angeles. They passed around the script and the DVD and decided on a studio that would allow them control over the project, and they released Saw at the Sundance Film Festival in 2004.
The movie cost around $700,000 to make and so far has made more than $55 million at the box office. Not to mention all the sequels, released once a year at Halloween (we love holiday traditions).
I have never seen Saw. I happen to own Saw II on DVD because I found it for sale for $3 and was feeling a little wild that day. I have not yet watched it. I know the Saw movies have a reputation for grisly torture and so on.
I’m not exactly a cinema sissy, and I’ve seen plenty of horror movies. But most horror films feel obligated to go all in on the grotesque, with a few dopey lines of dialogue in between FX. Even though I was told Saw was “pretty good,” I still couldn’t bite.
I was told many times that this or that Marvel comic book movie was “pretty good” — Iron Man 3 and Wolverine, for example — only to find out that “pretty good” means “same old dreck.”
And if I knew the guy who made Saw was the director of The Conjuring, I might not have gone to see it. I knew next to nothing about the movie, I only knew that Vera Farmiga was in it.
The Conjuring is a good old-fashioned haunted house story, not a blood-splattered exploitation film. Ron Livingston (the guy from Office Space) and Lily Taylor head the Perron family. With their five girls, they move into a spooky old house where bad things happened a long time ago.
Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson — that actor I think of as “not Josh Lucas and not that guy from The Walking Dead” — play the Warrens, professional ghost hunters.
As with The Amityville Horror, the story of The Conjuring is based on real events (In Amityville, it was the Defeo family that suffered). It takes place in 1971, and the “period piece” aspect of the movie works well.
There are scares a-plenty, shocks by the score and yes, here and there a wee bit of gore. But it was well told, with fine actors and clever editing. All in all, it was a good time at the movies.
Here’s the official trailer:
Here is the Who2 biography of James Wan.
And here he is, talking about The Conjuring: